That whole breathing thing really works
I have been an advocate of taking a slow, deep breath (also known as a cleansing breath in Lamaze circles) ever since reading the book Heads Up Baseball by Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza, which in my opinion is the Bible of the mental game. The basics are to stare at an object that won’t move during the game, such as a sign permanently attached to the backstop, then breathe in slowly — in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s designed to calm a player down as she starts to panic and help her get back into her happy zone.
Last week, though, I got a chance to prove scientifically that it works. I was in a clinic for a little outpatient procedure which I will spare you the details on — nothing serious, just a routine if disgusting test. As part of it, the nurse clipped a device onto my finger to track my heart rate.
After it was on, I turned to look at the monitor and saw it was reading 81 beats per minute. What a great opportunity, I thought, to see what effect the breathing exercise would have. So I took a deep breath — in through my nose, slowly out through my mouth. And lo and behold, down came my heart rate. At first I dropped it to about 74 beats per minute, so I did it again and got it down to 72. So, since it was going to be another 20 minutes before the procedure started I decided to play with the machine and see how low I could go. As I recall, I got down to about 70, but couldn’t get any lower than that.
Still, that’s pretty cool. I was already calm when I started, but doing the breathing brought me down even more. It’s the same for athletes.
When I explain this to players they often look at me like I’m nuts — especially the younger ones. I make them try it and they give me a token effort. Then they’re the first ones to panic and lose control in a game.
It may seem silly, but it really does work. I’ve had plenty of anecdotal evidence over the years, but now it’s confirmed scientifically. Every player should learn to breathe. You never know when it can make the difference between cascading errors/failure and success.